Book Reviews

Life Drawing by Robin Black

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“In Life Drawing, her gorgeously written first novel, Robin Black unfolds a fierce, honest, and moving portrait of a woman, and of a couple’s life — the betrayals and intimacies, the needs and regrets, the secrets that sustain love and the ones that threaten to destroy it.

Augusta and Owen have moved to the country, and live a quiet, and rather solitary life, Gus as a painter, Owen as a writer. They have left behind the city, and its associations to a troubled past, devoting their days to each other and their art. But beneath the surface of this tranquil existence lies the heavy truth of Gus’s past betrayal, an affair that ended, but that quietly haunts Owen, Gus and their marriage.

When Alison Hemmings, a beautiful British divorcée, moves in next door, Gus, feeling lonely and isolated, finds herself drawn to Alison, and as their relationship deepens, the lives of the three neighbors become more and more tightly intertwined. With the arrival of Alison’s daughter Nora, the emotions among them grow so intense that even the slightest misstep has the potential to do irrevocable harm to them all.

With lyrical precision and taut, suspenseful storytelling, Black steadily draws us deeper into a world filled with joys and darkness, love and sorrows, a world that becomes as real as our own. Life Drawing is a novel as beautiful and unsparing as the human heart.” ~ Goodreads

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Life Drawing (July 15) is one hell of a debut novel from Robin Black. It’s Literary Fiction at it’s finest. I immediately placed her short stories titled If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This on my TBR list. I realized that the books and stories that resonate with me, break my heart a bit. Make me uneasy. Ok, this book crushed my heart but it’s these types of books that I devour and drink in no matter the topic at hand.

There is no happiness in this story. Augusta and Owen are an absolute disaster as a couple at this particular moment in their marriage. Sure, they have moments of reconciliation and peace. Since they chose to continue to be together despite their troubles, their constant fight to stay the course is inspiring and real. REAL. They fight. They are hurtful to one another. They are loving and passionate. They are best friends. They console and support one another. They know when to stay away and give space and when to take each other into their arms for comfort. They kept score and let issues fester. I hated their circumstances and choices at times, but I LOVED the honesty Ms. Black explored.

“But Owen was Owen. Owen was me. I was Owen. Anger and all. Betrayals and all. Owen would walk into a room and I might well want to kill him-so to speak-but at the same time, for much of my life, I couldn’t really have told you where I left off and he began.”

The main story line is about Gus and Owen but equal weight is given to the topics of friendship and family. When Alison moves in next door, Augusta is immediately annoyed with this intruder into their solitude but then drawn to Alison as a confidant and friend. That balance of being a loner versus reaching out was beautifully portrayed. The other story line that was thoughtfully explored was Gus’ relationship with her family, especially her father’s slow decent with Alzheimer’s. Those visits with him and the reflections before and after gutted me and I want to hug Ms. Black for it. I think readers who have a similar experience with an ailing parent will agree.

“Life. It begins and begins and begins. An infinite number of times. It is all beginnings until the end comes. Sometimes we know it and sometimes we do not, but at every moment life begins again.”

I found myself meditating on the words and language used to describe: life, love, betrayal, despair, hope, forgiveness, religion, marriage, parenthood, tragedy, art, family, illness, friendship and death. Yes, an annoying list, but all these topics are explored at length and the words knocked the wind out of me and then filled me up. I feel I can’t do this novel justice in the review arena and some might find it too raw and heartbreaking. Too depressing. Too heavy. I must be a literary masochist because my favorite books ruin me. I closed my ereader and just stared into space. I wanted to pick a fight with my husband. I wanted to curl up in his arms. I wanted to expel all the feelings that this book provoked. I wanted to reread it and I did. I went back to that first tragic line and started all over again.

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*Thank you to Random House and Edelweiss for the advance readers ecopy. I was not compensated nor required to review this title. Quotes might be changed in the final public copy.

**After reading this novel, I wish, wish, wish, I had enough sense to read it before Printers Row Lit Fest. She was on a panel with Jenny Offill (Dept. of Speculation), moderated by Rebecca Makkai (The Hundred Year House). Huge miss on my part not attending that panel. Did anyone go that can share?!

 

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